for Rejecting Phones and Phonemes.
Some of the Evidence: Read it for yourself
For the past century scientists of
language have believed that
are composed from an inventory of phonemes
(or phonological segments) which are selected from a larger set of
universal phonetic units called phones.
Many linguists further assume that all phones and phonemes can be fully
represented as vectors of phonetic
features selected from a small, universal set.
Unfortunately, despite the strong intuitive appeal of this description, there is essentially no behavioral evidence supporting this idea. The purpose of this webpage is to provide a selection from the experimental evidence supporting my seemingly radical claim, and to make the material easily accessible.
I am working out a theory called `Rich Phonology'. It is an approach to linguistics that assumes words and phrases, etc. are stored in memory using a much more detailed code than the traditional view allowed -- representations specified in continuous time rather than in discrete time. Alphabet-like representations are useful and practical for those of us trained in their use, but they apparently play a very small role in everyday, real-time use of language by our brains. This means that the bit-rate of linguistic memory is larger by at least an order of magnitude than previously imagined based on a speaker-independent, abstract segmental representation. One implication is that exemplar theories of memory and episodic memory models are much better models of our linguistic memory than we thought. They are certainly better models than any abstract alphabetical representation. The strong appeal of letter-based abstract representations, and the sense that this is all the information speakers and hearers really need are intuitions that reflect primarily our lifelong experience translating letters into speech and speech into letters.
Port. R. F. How are words stored in memory? Beyond phones and phonemes. (2007). New Ideas in Psychology 25, 143- 170 (Elsevier)
presents the central story of
this webpage and reviews all the
made here. The rest of this site can be viewed as an elaboration
on the argument in this paper.
Port, R. F. (2008) All is prosody: Phones and
phonemes are the ghosts of letters. Keynote address for Prosody2008, Campinas, Brazil, May,
2008. To appear in the conference Proceedings.
This is a much shorter version (10 pages)
of the same
central story - but the telling gets a little clearer each time I
write it. So one might like to read this short version before the
longer one above. This version, as suggested by the title, is
oriented toward participants in the prosody conference.
Port, R. F. (2007) Phonology is not psychological and speech
processing is not linguistic. Mspt submitted to the Society for
Philosophy and Psychology annual meeting in Toronto. (About
This article shows how my distinction
between Phonology and Speech-Language Processing differs
from Chomsky's distantly related notion of Competence vs. Performance.
Every language requires a very high-dimensional space of phonetic properties (relative to the size of any phonetics previously proposed). This space includes indexical speaker- and voice-dependent properties, speaking rate information, etc. along with all the usual phonetic and phonological parameters. Since the acoustic features employed in these representations are acquired independently by each speaker from their auditory and linguistic experience, the features employed will be different from speaker to speaker (rather than fixed and universal). Furthermore, any given word or phrase will have many independent representations in memory. The evidence for these ideas comes from surprisingly many directions, while actual experimental data in support of our intuitive description of speech (based on letter-like segments) is essentially nonexistent, as far as I can tell.
Port, R. F., & Leary, A. (2005). Against formal phonology. Language 85, 927-964.
Robert (2006) The graphical
phones and phonemes. In Murray Munro and Ocke-Schwen
Bohn (eds.) Second
Language Speech Learning: The Role of Language Experience in Speech
and Production. Benjamins,
Argues that our lifelong experience with the alphabet biases our perceptual experience of speech. Segmental descriptions of speech present powerful and compelling intuitions to us. But these intuitions are largely an illusion. Chomsky's insistence that we need only trust our intuitions to find reliable linguistic descriptive tools has been a costly error. We CANNOT trust our intuitions to report what the real structure of language is. The nature of our linguistic intuitions, along with their origin, should be viewed as just another empirical problem requiring careful investigation.
If you are
interested in reading some of the background material which supports
these surprising claims, please follow the
Robert F. Port, February 24, 2008
First put up in